Union Report: NEA Affiliate in Las Vegas Surrenders 30% of Members to Teamsters. Is This the Start of New Labor Arrangement?

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Mike Antonucci’s Union Report appears most Wednesdays; see the full archive.

The union for education support workers in the Clark County, Nevada, school district has ceded responsibility for representing about one-third of its members to the Teamsters, ending almost 20 years of jurisdiction battles.

Under the agreement, the Education Support Employees Association, an affiliate of both the Nevada State Education Association and the National Education Association, will continue to represent teacher aides, clerical staff and food service workers in and around Las Vegas, while Teamsters Local 14 will represent bus drivers, custodians and maintenance workers. An estimated 8,000 district employees belong to the first group, 4,128 to the second group.

Union Report revealed the existence of these negotiations in an exclusive May 14 column.

The settlement came about after years of division among district support employees over which union should represent them. In 2006 and 2015, the Teamsters forced internal elections by demonstrating support from 30 percent of the bargaining unit. But though the union won large majorities of those who voted, Nevada law requires a union challenging an existing bargaining unit’s representation to receive a majority of all members, not just of ballots cast. That law was ultimately upheld by the Nevada Supreme Court after years of litigation.

Though ESEA continued to act as exclusive bargaining representative, its election losses highlighted its lack of support from members, many of whom defected to the Teamsters while still being represented by ESEA. With the Teamsters unable to wrestle bargaining rights from ESEA, and ESEA unable to fend off the Teamsters’ advantage among the members, a deal made sense for both. The agreement will stabilize the situation, but it still faces hurdles.

Splitting the bargaining unit requires the concurrence of the school district, so for the time being, ESEA is essentially subcontracting representation of its blue-collar members to the Teamsters. Since school employees are not required to join a union, both will wait until they can count a majority of their respective units as members before going to the district for approval to split into two bargaining units. The Teamsters say they can reach that threshold by Christmas. ESEA says it may take a little longer. The unions have agreed that if the district fails to concur, they will appeal to the state labor relations board.

The current support employees contract was concluded last month and runs until June 30, 2021, giving everyone involved some time to get used to the new arrangement.

The deal also includes a no-raid agreement, so that in the future neither side will attempt to poach members from the other.

This is a satisfactory compromise for the unions, but some members already have reason to complain. Large numbers of food service workers and clerical staff who voted for the Teamsters in previous elections now find that they will remain under ESEA jurisdiction and will be unable to switch. Nor can they simply drop their ESEA membership, because the resignation window runs only from July 1 to July 15 each year.

Hardest hit is the Nevada State Education Association. Having already lost 10,000 members and exclusive representation status when the Clark County Education Association disaffiliated and became independent, NSEA will now have to deal with another large membership loss and much-reduced influence in the Clark County district.

It also appears NSEA is still trying to unload its Las Vegas headquarters building, at the twice-marked-down price of just under $1.4 million. The union borrowed $1.2 million from NEA last year and will be hard-pressed to pay it back.

There is no discernible sign that events in Nevada are about to be replicated elsewhere, but a decided lack of attention is being paid to how all this revolutionary fervor from union members in the streets will alter their relationship with union leaders. Most education employee unions have been cemented in place since their one and only representation election, perhaps decades ago. Are new labor arrangements now possible, or are the entrenchments still impregnable?

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